Being the punctual academic I am, I discovered that the Cambridge Science Festival was on, the day before it finished. Luckily, that was just in time to drop in on "An Evening of Unnecessary Detail", which is an occasional show put on by science comedy troupe Festival of the Spoken Nerd. It's usually down in that London, but they popped up to Cambridge, because we are the best at science.
The evening comprises a series of talks on generally obscure topics, presented both by the main names of the troupe, and the various guest lecturers they invite along.
The event at Cambridge (in the Babbage lecture theatre, which I don't think I'd been in since metallurgy lectures a very long time ago), involved six talks, compèred nicely by Helen Arney, one of the fulltime nerds.
The first half of the evening involved three longer form talks, powerpoint and all. The appropriately named marine biologist Helen Scales spoke about the even more appropriately named Marie Fish, and her desire to listen to the animals that share her name, so they could be removed from noise tracking of enemy vessels. Ben Nuttall gave a brief history of programming languages (though also a sneaky advert for the Raspberry Pi) and Kat Arney entertained on the topic of control genes, and their ability to generate both polydactyl (Hemingway) cats, and spiky penises. Kat Arney is a science communicator and demonstrated this rather well, being the best talk of the evening, showing the important fact that an entertaining talk will often impart information better than a boring one.
The second half of the event was rather more relaxed, with none of the lecture style of the first. This was generally more practical, the best example of which was Steve Mould's demonstration of the principle of gravitational waves. This is a neat little trick using nothing more than a drill, a bit of lycra and a stroboscopic light source. Following Steve, Francesca Day gave a fun little talk that discussed 10 differences between a supernova and a fork, and also "The Large Hadron Collider: The 18-30s Tour". The evening was finished off by Katie Steckles demonstrating the Fold and Cut Theorem in which any shape can be cut from a piece of paper with a single cut, given sufficient folding. A neat trick, especially when demonstrated by cutting out letter to form a name. For any lazy mathematicians, the fold patterns can be found here.
Both an informative and entertaining evening, and one I might consider popping down to London to have a listen to at some point. But in the meantime, what's your favourite unnecessary detail about science?